Syrian war at new levels of brutality, says UN

Human rights investigators say crimes against humanity ‘continue apace’

A boy looks at drawings on a wall in Raqqa province in east Syria yesterday. One drawing reads: “Homs is bleeding”. Photograph: Reuters/Nour Kelze

A boy looks at drawings on a wall in Raqqa province in east Syria yesterday. One drawing reads: “Homs is bleeding”. Photograph: Reuters/Nour Kelze


UN human rights investigators say the conflict in Syria has reached new “levels of brutality” as war crimes, crimes against humanity and massive human rights violations “continue apace”.

The 29-page report covering all aspects of the conflict says during the period between mid-January to mid-May this year, 17 massacres were alleged to have been committed, more than half the total of 30 since the conflict began in March 2011.

The authors argue “documented violations are consistent and widespread, [constituting] evidence of a concerted policy implemented by . . . Syria’s military and government”.

Both troops and rebels have committed murder, torture, rape and other abuses. Rebels and foreign fighters have killed civilians as well as captured soldiers, staged “show trials”, and “continue to endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives in civilian areas”. Rebels also recruit children below the age of 15 and order them to carry out atrocities. At least 86 child soldiers have been killed.

Chemical weapons
The authors contend that atrocities committed with conventional weapons were far more devastating than from chemical agents. However, in the section devoted to the latter, the investigators say they had “reasonable grounds” to say that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

Inquiry chairman Paulo Pinheiro reiterated this charge: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.”

He said there had been no large-scale attack with toxic chemicals. Since the Syrian government had not permitted the commission or a group of experts to investigate in Syria itself, he said, “the witnesses that we have interviewed include victims, refugees who fled some areas and medical staff”.

While testimony related mainly to accusations against the military, rebels were also charged with employing such weapons.

Mr Pinheiro added: “It’s an illusion that more weapons will tip the balance between the two parties . . . More weapons will . . . lead to more civilian deaths and wounded.”

He urged the international community to pursue a negotiated peace.

‘Localised’ sarin use
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius specified that the nerve agent sarin had been used “several times” and in a “localised manner” after tests were carried out on material carried out of Syria by French journalists.

While fighting between pro- and anti-government forces continued in the strategic town of Qusayr, in Damascus troops expelled fighters from radical Jabhat al-Nusra from the eastern district of Jobar and shells fell near the Russian embassy in the central Mazraa district, killing a civilian and wounding a member of the security forces.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Meqdad said 4,000 Lebanese Shia Hizbullah fighters have massed near Aleppo in preparation for a major offensive. Participation in this campaign would deepen Hizbullah involvement in the conflict as its fighters have, until now, been concentrated in the west near the Lebanese border.

Troops were also battling rebels around a military airbase in Aleppo province, the state news agency reported. Retaking the base would permit government forces to strike rebel concentrations without carrying out a ground offensive in the rebel-held countryside.

In Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli, forces favouring and opposing the Syrian government exchanged fire in spite of efforts by the Lebanese army to restore calm.

At an EU-Russian summit in Yekaterinburg, Russian president Vladimir Putin criticised the EU decision to end the ban on supplying arms to Syrian rebels while arguing that Moscow had not disturbed “the balance in the region” by shipping S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria.